Evening fragrance

March 24th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

'Starlight Scentsation' night scented stock has better colours than the usual form.

Matthiola longipetala subsp. bicornis. It’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it. Night scented stock is a much happier roll off the tongue. But, either way, this is a sadly neglected plant. Many people like the idea but not so many people actually grow it.

The great thing about it, of course, is the spectacular evening and night time perfume. It really is special. The problem is that the plants enjoy plenty of sun but during the day the flowers close up – so it’s tempting not to place them in sunny position. After all, who wants a plant that looks wilted for most of the day in a prominent place?

It’s often suggested that you mix them with Virginia stocks, which have the colour but no scent. The Mr F catalogue suggests exactly that. But the only time I tried it I found that the night scented stock plants were larger and more bushy so they smothered the Virginia stocks.

Bu this year here’s what I’m going to try. I’m wondering if, in this case, “sunny” might actually mean “not shady”.

Huh? What I mean is that perhaps the night scented stocks will do well in a bright open position – but one which doesn’t actually get any sun. So perhaps I’ll sow them behind something unscented that reaches a little more than the 12in/30cm of the night scented stocks – some asters perhaps or some nigella – but where they’re not overhung of by trees or smothered by taller neighbours.

And here’s the other thing. There are two varieties – and one is much better than the other. The one simply called ‘Night Scented’ is fine, but all the flowers tend to be more or less pink, and often a rather watery shade. ‘Starlight Scentsation’ is a pastel mix with more pink tones and with cream and white as well.

Yes, ‘Starlight Scentsation’ is a little bit more expensive – or, if you like, a little less cheap. With ‘Night Scented’ you get 1500 seeds for £1.89; with ‘Starlight Scentsation’ you get 1000 seeds for £2.19. How many seeds do you need? 1000 is plenty, and for the extra 30p you’ll get a much better variety.

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Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
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